Friday, August 16, 2019

What I Learned from my High School Social Studies Teacher

Back in high school there was this Social Studies teacher (Let's call him Mr. A) that made teaching look easy....almost too easy;  like is he even a real teacher kind of easy.  He never seemed to have a lesson plan and I always felt that he was flying by the seat of his pants.  All the other teachers had homework, quizzes, and tests planned.  Planned so much so that they had the time to type them up and copy them before class or at least tell you where to find it in the book.  But not this guy. 

Here's the thing:  I still remember most of what I learned in his classes, but I can't even recall who my 10th grade history teacher was.  I wanted to reflect on why this might be.  Why did I learn so much from a guy who was so unprepared, or was he?

As a teacher myself I know that I was wrong about Mr. A winging it.  Even though he didn't spend his time preparing for class in the copy room, he did come to class prepared.  Here, check out some of the things he did differently from the others and why I now know why they were effective.

He asked the same questions over and over. 
Mr. A would start and end class with the same questions and these questions would be the same throughout the unit we were learning.  At the time I was mildly insulted by these queries.  Does he really think we're that stupid that we can't remember the answers from day to day?  And sometimes, yes, I wouldn't be able to recall the correct answer.  But as the days went by, the information must have started to store in my long-term memory and I didn't have to work so hard to recall the correct answer.  Huh.

He never handed out a test. 
For assessments Mr. A would hand each of us a blank piece of paper then stand at the chalk board at the ready.  He would ask, "What questions should we put on this test?"  This is where I though he was lazy, but I now think he was a genius.  I do want to point out that he would sometimes reject questions or he would act like he just had a great idea for a questions when I'm sure he knew he wanted it the whole time. 
The questions we typically came up with were the ones he repeated over and over throughout the unit.  This would prove to him that we were listening, learning, and most important that we understood the objectives of the unit.  So not only did we know the answers to the questions, we knew the questions too. 
Every once in a while a student would come up with a really great question and that's when he would make you feel like a million bucks.  He would praise you in front of the whole class.  So of course we would all try to come up with the best questions.  And on top of that, you would need to know the answer too. 

So what does this look like on the teacher's end?

For starters you would need to determine what questions to ask over and over again.  I found expert suggestions in the book Hacking Questions by Connie Hamilton.  Specifically chapter 5 entitled Play the Broken Record.  She suggests looking at your lesson objectives and turning those into questions.  I like how Mr. A would bookend each class with these questions and that he did them verbally.  This way when I didn't know the answer to a question, I had immediate feedback from my classmates and would try my best to remember for the next time he asked. 

I have tried Mr. A's method of assessment with my students.  Before class I create a list of objectives that need to be covered in the quiz/test and if the students don't hit that question, I make sure I do, making check marks down my list and having questions on the ready.  If there are repetitive questions from the students I cull those.  If a student creates an amazing problem I make sure to praise them. 

Give this a try, I would love to hear how it works for you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Keystone Algebra 1 Exams

A few weeks ago while on vacation I received preliminary results on my students' state test scores, the Keystone Exams.  Talk about a kill-joy.  I literally felt like crying and not for me, but mostly for my students.  We worked so hard this past school year. 

In the past I've tried to ignore the tests and just put my whole heart into teaching.  I mean Algebra 1 is Algebra 1, right? ...but then our scores really tanked.  After that I had a friendly conversation with an administrator who expressed his concerns.  He gave a few suggestions for me to try in my classroom and also let me know that he's supportive of what I do.  What I took away from that conversation is that I needed to take these exams seriously.  So I have taken them seriously in the past few years; studying the standards, practically memorizing the sampler questions, talking with other educators about their approach.  And yet....and yet, I still fail. 

So, I decided to do something drastic and write my own curriculum.  I've been using the one we created as a department when the exams first came out.  This was back when we only had the standards to refer to and there were no sampler questions yet.  But now, I have a few years of sampler questions to glean information from and that is what my curriculum is based from. 

I started back in March and have a few units written, but this is a long process.  I like to try each unit with my students to make sure the flow and pacing is right before I give access to other teachers.

The bad news:  I don't have any data yet to show if this curriculum works or not, since it's not finished.

The good news:  I am selling what I have to date.  This means that you can buy what I have so far and then receive the new units for free.  Each time I include another unit in the curriculum, the price will increase.  Each unit includes notes, practice problems (homework), and two versions of the test.  Longer units also include quizzes.  You could also purchase individual units rather than the whole curriculum. 

On the side bar of this blog is a link to my page with the order of the units as I plan to present them to my classes.  It also includes links to other activities that support the curriculum.  Like Kahoot! and desmos activities. 

Here is a link to what I have so far.  CLICK HERE!

As of today I have three units that are finished and tested:

  • Compound Probability
  • Data Displays and Analysis
  • Domain, and Range
These are the units that I have finished over the summer but need to try in my classroom:
  • Tables and Intercepts
  • Rate of Change, Slope, and Slope-Intercept
  • Writing Linear Equations
These are the units that I have to write and test:
  • Systems of Linear Equations
  • Systems of Linear Inequalities
  • Compare and/or Order Numbers, Simplify Square Roots
  • GCF, LCM, Algebraic Properties
  • Evaluate Expressions, and Estimation
  • Linear Equations
  • Linear Inequalities
  • Polynomial Expressions
  • Factor & Simplify Rational Algebraic Expressions

An Apology

Sometimes I forget that students care if I like them. I received an email from one of my students a few weeks ago, and the subject line ...